HL Deb 29 June 1972 vol 332 cc1005-14

4.16 p.m.


My Lords, with the permission of the House I will repeat a Statement which by now will have been made by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about the case of Graham Young who, I understand, was to-day convicted of murder and other grave offences committed while he was a patient conditionally discharged from Broadmoor Hospital.

The Statement is as follows:

"I wish at the outset to express the deep concern which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I have felt about the case and our sympathy with the surviving victims and the relatives of those who have suffered.

"Young was sent to Broadmoor in 1962 on his conviction, as a boy of 14, of offences of administering poison to three persons, who all recovered. The court ordered that he should not be discharged without the consent of the Home Secretary for 15 years. He was conditionally discharged in February 1971 on medical advice that he had responded well to treatment and was no longer a danger to others. His discharge was on the conditions that he should reside at a stated address, be supervised by a probation officer and attend a psychiatric out-patient clinic.

"It is now tragically clear that Young's morbid interest in poisons had not abated and that he had been able successfully to conceal this through a prolonged period of careful observation by a most experienced doctor and other staff.

"My right honourable friend and I "—

that is, of course, the Home Secretary—

"immediately we learned of this case, instituted a searching examination of the arrangements for discharging and supervising restricted patients. This is an area raising issues of profound difficulty. We have as a result already introduced a number of changes aimed at strengthening still further the safeguards for the protection of the public. Now that the trial has finished, we are at once seeking totally independent advice on whether there are any further changes within the existing law which should be made. This review will be carried out by Sir Carl Aarvold, the Recorder of London, Sir Denis Hill, Professor of Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, and Mr. G. P. Newton, Director of Social Services for Wiltshire.

"The present case has confirmed my right honourable friend and me"—

that is, the Home Secretary—

"in the view that the time has come for a fundamental review of the provisions of the criminal law relating to mentally abnormal offenders, and the facilities for the treatment of such persons. We are taking steps to appoint an independent and authoritative Committee for this purpose. I am glad to inform the House that Lord Butler of Saffron Walden has agreed to be Chairman.

"I will, with permission, circulate in the OFFICIAL REPORT a detailed statement about Young's case and the action which is being taken."

My Lords, that concludes the Statement. I will make appropriate arrangements for the longer Statement to be circulated to your Lordships; for it is much too long to read out.

Following is the longer Statement referred to:

  1. "1. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and I learned with deep concern of the case of Graham Young who was convicted to-day at St. Albans Crown Court. His offences were committed while he 1008 was a patient conditionally discharged from Broadmoor hospital.
  2. "2. Young was convicted at the Central Criminal Court in July 1962 on three counts of causing grievous bodily harm, by administering poison, to his sister, his father and a schoolfellow (who all recovered). He was then a boy of 14. The court found him to be suffering from psychopathic disorder, and made orders under the Mental Health Act 1959 for his detention in Broadmoor hospital and for restriction on his discharge without the Home Secretary's consent for a period of 15 years.
  3. "3. Young remained at Broadmoor until February 1971, when he was 23. His initial response to treatment was slow. But in June 1970 the responsible medical officer reported that, during the previous three or four years, profound changes had taken place in the patient; that he was no longer obsessed with thoughts of poisons, violence and mischief; and that he was no longer a danger to others.
  4. "4. Consequently Young's conditional discharge from Broadmoor was agreed by my authority. The conditions were that Young should (i) reside at a stated address; (ii) be subject to supervision by a probation officer; and (iii) attend at a psychiatric outpatient clinic as directed by the responsible medical officer at Broadmoor. As a conditionally discharged patient, Young remained liable to recall to Broadmoor until the expiry of the restriction order in 1977. After that date, he would have been free without any restriction.
  5. "5. Young went on discharge to the Government Training Centre at Slough, and subsequently was employed by a firm at Hemel Hempstead. It is clear that the morbid interest in poisons which he had successfully concealed through a long period of prolonged and careful observation in hospital by a most experienced doctor and other staff was resumed almost immediately upon discharge. Young complied carefully with the condition that he should submit to supervision. He did nothing to arouse the suspicions of his supervising officers or psychiatrist about his activities; and his employers at first had no reason to connect the illnesses among their staff with him. Poisoning is a unique crime. If violent offenders on release return to violent ways this is apparent at once. But the use of poison can escape detection for a long time—and in this case the nature and effects of the poisons used made it especially difficult to recognise that the resulting symptoms were not due to innocent causes.
  6. "6. The discharge of restricted patients who have committed serious offences raises issues of profound difficulty. The safety of the public must be the paramount consideration, and no patient is discharged unless it is considered safe to do so. But a judgment must be made, and although the utmost care is taken, it cannot be infallible. Fortunately, errors of judgment are extremely rare; substantial numbers of restricted patients are discharged each year and successfully take their place in the community. In this case, as explained, the restriction order would have 1009 expired anyway in 1977; and complete insurance against misjudgment could be assured only by ignoring the opinion of doctors and detaining for the rest of their lives people who have committed offences that might not have made them liable to a life sentence if committed by a mentally normal adult (as was indeed the position in respect of the offences of which Young was convicted in 1962).
  7. "7. Nevertheless, it is plain that all possible steps must be taken to reduce the possibility of misjudgment in the individual case and to strengthen the effectiveness of supervision. Under the present arrangements, as already stated, great care is taken, and considerable numbers of patients have been successfully reabsorbed into society without harm to others. But my right honourable friend and I examined the existing arrangements in detail as soon as the facts of this case came to our notice, and our Chief Medical Officer has fully discussed the issues with the consultant psychiatrists at Broadmoor. As a result, we have already introduced changes designed to tighten up the safeguards still further. In particular, first, no patient is now discharged from the special hospitals until the responsible medical officer who has supervised the patient's treatment has obtained a concurring recommendation from another consultant psychiatrist experienced in this particular work. Secondly, the arrangements for supervision, including psychiatric supervision, have been strengthened; and arrangements have been made to ensure that, where necessary, the supervising officer is in touch with the employer and the employer is sufficiently informed about the case to be in a position to tell the supervisor of any incident giving rise to anxiety.
  8. "8. My right honourable friend and I were in no doubt that these changes should be made without delay, and without waiting until the Young case had been disposed of by the courts. Now that the case in the Crown Court has been concluded, we are forthwith seeking independent advice on whether the procedures, as now improved, are satisfactory or whether there are further changes that should be made within the existing law. We have invited Sir Carl Aarvold, Recorder of the City of London; Professor Sir Denis Hill of the Institute of Psychiatry; and Mr. George Newton, Director of Social Services in Wiltshire, to review the procedures as quickly as possible. These advisers will have access to full information about the Young case and any other individual cases they may wish to examine.
  9. "9. This is immediate action within the existing law. There is also a need for a more profound review of the legal provisions in this general area. My right honourable friend and I have for some time been coming to the conclusion that there should be a wide-ranging inquiry into the whole question of the application of the criminal law to mentally abnormal offenders, and have discussed this proposition with the Chairmen of the Law Commission and the Criminal Law Revision Committee. This view has been reinforced by the present case. We are now jointly taking steps to appoint an independent and authoritative Committee, including legal, medical and lay members, which will be asked to examine to what extent, and 1010 on what criteria, the law should recognise mental disorder or abnormality as a factor affecting the liability to trial or conviction of a person accused of a criminal offence, and his subsequent disposal. The Committee will also be asked to consider whether changes are desirable in the powers, procedure and facilities for enabling appropriate treatment—including treatment in the community and supervision after discharge—to be given to such offenders. Lord Butler of Saffron Walden has agreed to be Chairman of this Committee. Lord Butler, who was of course Home Secretary from 1957 to 1962, is President of the National Association for Mental Health, and Chairman of the Trustees of the Mental Health Trust and Research Fund. The names of the other members of the Committee will be announced as soon as possible.
  10. "10. The present case is one giving rise to great anxiety. My right honourable friend and I thought that it was clearly right at once to review the procedures and make immediate improvements, and we shall now be receiving independent advice on whether anything additional should be done within the existing law. Whether further and more fundamental changes should be made raises issues which are complex and difficult, and these will be fully investigated by the authoritative body which is now to be appointed."


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble and learned Lord for repeating the Statement. In all the circumstances of this tragic case I am sure that his right honourable friend has taken the only possible step open to him in the appointment of this Committee to inquire into the arrangements for the discharge of such patients as Young; and we must now await the result of that inquiry. As to the other Review Committee, I am sure we all welcome the appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, and we wish him well in the work which he is undertaking.


My Lords, it is indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, has said, a most tragic case, and I am quite sure that the Government are taking the right action in setting up these inquiries. But there is one further aspect. It has been reported that neither the factory doctor nor the medical officer of health, nor the management of the plant, had any knowledge of the medical history of this young man. There have been many recent cases—some within my own knowledge—where management has been completely frustrated through medical protocol and through their not having access to the medical histories of their workers. I believe that the time has come for a searching inquiry into whether medical protocol is now serving the interests of the community. I hope that perhaps the Government will take this into consideration, in addition to these legal reviews which are to take place.


My Lords, I am sure that we all welcome the setting up of this inquiry. Those of us who have had anything to do with the discharge of these patients know what a difficult task it is when we have received the advice of the medical people. But there is one other aspect to which I should like to draw the attention of the House. Does not the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor think it rather disgraceful that there was nowhere except Broadmoor in which to put a young boy of 14 who was found guilty of these actions some 10 years ago? As I understand it, from my knowledge of what happened just shortly after that time, he was mostly with adults and had to have special arrangements for lessons. While it may not have had any bearing whatsoever on what has happened to-day, is it not time that we had different arrangements for adolescents who have been found guilty of these crimes?


My Lords, I share the sense of tragedy over this case and the expressions of sympathy made by noble Lords. I would extend my sympathy to the Home Secretary who took the decision to release Young. As a former Home Secretary, may I say that I found no type of case more difficult and heart-searching to deal with—not even a death sentence case—than when I was considering recommendations by medical experts that I should agree to the release of somebody from strict security conditions in Broadmoor. Every time I knew that I might be taking too great a risk.


My Lords, may I say—


My Lords, I am just wondering whether I can keep track of this discussion. I do not wish to stop either my noble friends or the noble Baroness from pursuing me with further supplementary questions, because it is a matter which, I think rightly, arouses very deep feelings of anxiety. But I should like at this stage to thank the two noble Lords and the noble Baroness who received this Statement with such sympathy and understanding. I will take particular care to see that what the noble Lord, Lord Byers, has said is drawn to the attention of the appropriate people. Although the noble Baroness, Lady Bacon, hinted that the matter does not arise out of the present case, I will also see that what she said is considered. I do not know what the answer is: it is rather out of my sphere. I am also very grateful to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor. One does know what anxieties, what lonely anxieties, beset a Home Secretary, and I am sure that my right honourable friend will be deeply touched by the sympathy extended by his predecessor. I am sure that we all share the deep sense of sympathy with those who have suffered as a result of these tragic matters.


My Lords, of course I share the very deep concern at this tragic mistake, and I should like to express satisfaction that the Government are acting with such promptitude in appointing this inquiry so that something may be done before there is perhaps a public misunderstanding about the difficulty of resolving this extremely difficult question. I should like also to express the hope that at the earliest possible time, either through this Committee which is to make a review, or by a Government Statement in some other context, some information may be made public about the number of cases in the past, say four or five years, in which persons released from Broadmoor have committed serious offences of this kind. I say this in order that there may not be a possibly mistaken public outcry that more mistakes are being made than in fact is the case, much as we deplore the tragedy of those mistakes that must I suppose inevitably occur sometimes.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, for what she has said. My information is that in many ways this case is unique in the history of forensic medicine; although it is not a case which, except in very general terms, has come within my personal knowledge. I can give the noble Lady one figure on the lines of what she is asking for. I am told that, since 1960, 331 patients have been discharged from Broadmoor to the community on the authority of the Home Secretary of the day. Two of those, apart from Young, subsequently committed homicide. In both cases the offence occurred so long after the discharge that active supervision of the patient had been discontinued. That gives the noble Lady some indication.


My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord.


My Lords, I should like to add my own expression of sorrow for the relations of those who have suffered so much. I want to say a word only because I visit Broad-moor quite often—indeed, I was there on Saturday. I think that the pyschiatric treatment there is absolutely first-class, but the problem is that there are not enough psychiatrists. There are only six, and it is a very big hospital. Also, as in the case of all hospitals, there is a great shortage of nurses. I believe that if there were a larger psychiatric staff, and more nurses were available, we should not have this sort of thing happening. I know that people who have been to Broadmoor think the psychiatric treatment there is absolutely first-class.


I am grateful for both parts of what my noble friend has said. I think it fair to say that in this case, which is a very extraordinary one, the young man in question was adequately supervised. Indeed, he appears to have had the cunning (if that is the right word) not only to deceive the most experienced medical supervisor in the hospital but also to have concealed this extraordinary morbid preoccupation with poison from the people who were supervising him after his discharge. This is something which only goes to show how very extraordinary medical disease may be, and how it may become concealed with considerable ingenuity.


My Lords, another point has been put to me by my noble friends who come from Scotland. Can the noble and learned Lord say whether the review to be undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, will extend into the Scottish law as well?


My Lords, I cannot give the noble Lord, Lord Beswick, a direct answer now. From the terms of the Statement I should infer that it would not. If noble Lords wish to press that it should—which the noble Lord has not done; he was simply asking me a question—I will certainly undertake that this is brought to the notice of the Secretary of State.


My Lords, I should have thought it would be reasonable that the noble and learned Lord should at least put the point to his colleagues.


My Lords, I certainly would, but I would put it with greater conviction if I knew what the recommendation was. The Statement itself implies that the review is to be done simply on the recommendation of the English Ministers. To tell the noble Lord the truth, I do not know the exact provisions of Scottish law in this field. Of course I will draw the attention of my colleagues to what has been said, but I should do so with greater conviction as to results if I knew what the recommendation was.


My Lords, I cannot pretend for one moment that I have any knowledge of this field, but it occurs to me that there might be advantage in looking at the thing for once in a United Kingdom context even though the necessary results which followed from the consideration might require different things to be done in Scotland from what might be needed in England. I would suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Polwarth, might consult the Secretary of State at the same time to find out whether he would be interested in joining, even on a consultative basis, in this investigation.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Polwarth has heard what has fallen from the lips of the noble Lord. What he says is a very sensible suggestion, and I am quite sure that my colleagues will take it into account.